Parents today seem hesitant to be authoritative with their children, and I believe this hesitancy is detrimental to their children’s ultimate flourishing. Let me explain why.
Human beings tend not to like authority naturally. No one teaches us that–it comes naturally. And Americans especially don’t like others telling us what to do. To be under someone else’s authority necessitates that I am not the one in authority, and we don’t like that very much. We want to be in charge. However, faith in Christ demands submission to the benevolent authority of God. Without joyful submission to authority, human beings cannot flourish.
In America, we prefer the management leadership style. We want those in charge to concentrate on making life smooth and effortless for everyone else. We value efficiency, convenience, and freedom. We want our leaders and our government to focus on making the conditions of our lives easier so that we can do whatever we want within the bounds of law. Authority exists to eliminate the hindrances to my personal happiness.
I love America, and I believe democracy is the greatest form of government ever contrived. However, I wonder sometimes if our soft view of authority hinders us from understanding what it means to live our lives with Christ as King. We don’t understand what it means for a sovereign king to tell us, “Because I said so.”
Every Christian begins his or her life in Christ by confessing that “Jesus is Lord.” We do not say, “Jesus is manager.” We do not come to Jesus to make our lives more efficient. Jesus does not promise to grant us an easier life. If anything, he promises our lives will be more difficult because we are following him (Luke 9:23-25). The confession that “Jesus is Lord” is a commitment of submission. When we confess the lordship of Christ, we are vowing to obey Jesus as King. We make this commitment because we believe obeying Jesus is better than obeying our own desires. In short, we believe Jesus uses his authority to bless us.
How we respond to “Because I said so” depends completely on who the “I” is. There are times as a parent when I’m able to sit down with my children and explain to them the reasons why I’m giving a specific command. However, there are other times when I don’t have that luxury. If my small children are playing on the train tracks in front of my house and I hear the train coming, I don’t have time to reason with them. If they ask why I want them off the tracks, I’m going to say, “Because I said so.” At that point their willingness to obey will depend on whether they trust me. If I’ve used my authority in the past to bless them and earned their trust, they should joyfully get off the tracks solely because their loving father is telling them to do so.
There are times in life when God calls us to obey and doesn’t give us reasons. He told Adam not to eat of the specific tree in the garden lest he die, but he did not explain all his reasons. He told Jonah to go to Ninevah to deliver his message to the Assyrians but did not explain further. God gives us commands like these because he expects us to trust him. He has a spotless track record. He has reasons that we may not be ready to know, and we must trust that he knows what he’s doing. We must remind ourselves that his commands are for the ultimate good of his children (Romans 8:28). He would never harm us.
When parents hesitate to demand obedience from their children, they are not teaching their children how to thrive. Demanding obedience will not harm your child. Telling your child what to do and expecting her to do it the first time will prepare her to respond trustfully to God. Training your child to do something “because I said so” will teach him that some words need to be trusted. A loving parent’s words are designed to give life. We instruct to bless, even though we fail sometimes. God, however, always instructs to bless. He never fails.
Authority isn’t bad. In fact, authority, in itself, is good. The problem is that in our fallen world, we’ve too often seen people use authority selfishly. Sadly, too many people have fallen victim to selfish leaders willing to harm others to get what they want. We must remember that Jesus came to make everything right again, including authority. He came to use his authority “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Parents, let’s follow his lead.